TWO wards treating dementia patients have been closed by a health board because of nurse shortages.

The units affected by the temporary closures are the Loirston ward and the Lochhead Day Hospital at Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen.

NHS Grampian said the decision would “enhance patient safety” and was because of registered nurse posts being unfilled. More than one-fifth of the posts are currently vacant and the units are expected to remain closed for a year.

Head of hosted mental health and learning disability services Jane Fletcher said: “We currently have 55.6 whole time equivalent registered (trained) nursing vacancies.

“This is 22 per cent of our registered nursing staff. It is simply unsafe for us to try to run our services, in their current format, with that number of unfilled posts.

“In recent months my team have been exploring different ways of working or using different mixes of staff groups to find a long-term solution. In the meantime, staff on the wards have gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing cover.

“However, working in this way is unsustainable. I also have a duty to look after the staff here so they are able to look after their patients.”

Dr Alastair Palin, a consultant psychiatrist at Royal Cornhill Hospital, said: “This has been a very difficult decision to take and I want to reassure the public we exhausted all other options before arriving here. The safety of our patients and staff must be paramount.”

The Scottish Government has said it is providing more resources for NHS Grampian and the new GP contract should take pressure off other areas of the health service.

But it said Brexit was making it harder to recruit staff from other EU countries.

A spokesman said: “We recognise the north east faces a range of complex challenges, including recruiting and retaining GPs and clinical staff. To help address this, we are increasing NHS Grampian’s budget by more than £315 million – despite Scotland’s fiscal resource budget being cut by the UK Government – and are delivering an increase of more than 800 staff.

“We have also negotiated a new GP contract to stabilise income, reduce workload, and improve patient care. This is backed by investment of £110 million this year and ensures GPs can spend more time with patients and less time on bureaucracy.”